As far back as October of last year, Sen. John McCain’s been urging various forms of U.S. military engagement with the blooming civil war in Syria. Appearing on PBS Newshour Thursday, McCain suggested again that the U.S. should arm the Syrian rebels, and cited a precedent of the Libyan revolution to make the case.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But would you also need some sort of ground forces in the area —
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: No.
JUDY WOODRUFF: — because Assad’s forces are operating very much in the middle of the civilian population.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: We would not.
Putting U.S. ground forces in would be not only not appropriate, but counterproductive. We just need to arm and equip these people, the same way that we did in Libya.
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The problem? No reliable reports ever indicated that the U.S. armed Libyan rebels. Indeed, while speculation was rife, and bureaucratic authorizations for such actions existed, administration officials consistently denied that the U.S. partook in funneling arms to militas battling late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s military.
Amid pressure to now arm the Syrian rebels, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice made the exact opposite point McCain did on Thursday:
Wolf, even in Libya, we did not take the very exceptional decision to arm the opposition. And in Syria, we know much, much less about the nature of this opposition. It’s not coherent….
So to argue that we ought to be arming the opposition is a very consequential statement. And I don’t think that those that are advocating that have fully thought through the consequences.
The Libyan rebels were instead armed by various other U.S. allies, such as the tiny Gulf sheikhdom of Qatar. Those Qatari arms flowed with the knowledge of the U.S.. The New York Times reported this week that Syrian activists said exactly the same dynamic was already at work in Syria, with the U.S. “consulted” on the weapons transfers of Qatari purchases of Turkish anti-tank missiles for Syrian fighters. “Officials in Washington said the United States did not take part in arms shipments to the rebels, though they recognized that Syria’s neighbors would do so,” the Times reported.